The Clinton Heights Fire Department is not unique. It is simply a group of common people sharing the idea and reality of helping the community in times of trouble; be it fire or crises of any kind. To help is its mission...a mission that has a history going back over 90 years.
Clinton Heights comprises two fire companies; W.F. Bruen Hose (Station 1) and Community Hose (Station 2). Being a member is like being an American, as well as a New Yorker. Each member has, if you will, ‘dual citizenship’, department, and company. Although the names used today are well known to most, they are not the originals by any means.
The birth date of the fire department is taken as 1912. It began with a meeting in 1911 at the old schoolhouse on the site of the current Bruen Hose station. The minutes of that meeting calls for “an association for fire protection with a given area hereabouts.” The association was formed as “The Citizens Hose Company” and incorporated in 1914. Thus, housed in an old school house, the birth of fire protection in the Clinton Heights section of East Greenbush came to be.
In 1932, the Citizens Hose Company had outgrown the old school. A new building was erected on the site. The 50-by-100-foot building was a focal point for many local activities and social events. Besides the fire hall were a four-lane bowling alley, snack bar, meeting rooms, and a hall complete with a projection booth and stage. In addition, there was a two-bed ‘sick room’ that acted as a first aid station for those waiting for transportation to area hospitals. To fill this need, the fire company added an ambulance service to its fire fighting service in 1937.
During the 1930’, local benefactor Williard F. Bruen greatly assisted the Citizens Hose Company. Not only was he physically active in his support, but financially as well. In recognition of his assistance, the company was re-incorporated as the W.F. Bruen Hose Company, this occurred in 1938. The name, so familiar to us today, still bears testimony to this local philanthropist.
In 1938, the residents of the Clinton Park area decided that an additional fire company would aid in protecting the community. They requested permission from the Board of Fire Commissioners permission to form the Community Hose and Chemical Company. Permission was granted, but a search for incorporation revealed that another fire company of the same name existed in the Buffalo area; so the “and Chemical” was dropped, giving birth to the Community Hose Company.
The 1940s saw war come to the world. War, though, did not stop living in the community. Bruen Hose added a three-stall garage to house the pumper and ambulance, and Community Hose built its first building. The community would do the best it could during these trying times.
As World War II continued, it took its toll on the small community. Sometimes, there were not enough people to man the apparatus or the ambulance. Truck drivers on State Routes 9 & 20 were flagged down and pressed into emergency service. They never protested, and the community appreciated their assistance.
During these years many members of the community went to war. Included in the list was one Stephen F. White. Young Sergeant White was serving in the United States Army in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium when Adolf Hitler launched a massive counter-offensive that came to be known as “The Battle of the Bulge.” The battle began on December 16, 1944, would end Hitler’s failed assault and took the lives of over 100,00 men and women…including our own, Sergeant White. Sergeant White was buried in a war cemetery in Belgium, never knowing that his community would rename the Community Hose fire station “The Stephen F. White Memorial” in his honor.
As WWII concluded, Clinton Heights was still on the move. The residents of the Prospect Heights area would request that they, too, be allowed to form a fire company. In 1946 the Miller Hose Company would be formed.
At about the same time, the fire department saw the need for another type of assistance in the fire service. With the growth of the automobile and the commensurate traffic problems, the decision was made to form a “Fire Police” unit. The investigation was made, and with it, the discovery that no such organization could exist. A call was made to the New York State legislature asking for permission, and with a stroke of Governor Thomas E. Dewey’s pen, that law was passed allowing such units. These men of the Clinton Heights Fire Police Unit were the first in New York State.
In 1954, the members at Community Hose added their first addition to the building. This addition doubled the size of the building.
Things continued fairly routine in the Clinton Heights Fire Department for the next few years-not for long. On February 16, 1955, a passerby stopped next door to the Bruen Hose building and asked if smoke was supposed to be coming from the fire station. At about the same time, the station siren must have shorted out and activated. One of the first arriving firefighters was the late Peter Carpinello, who without knowing what the call was, started the engine and ambulance and pulled them out of the station, most likely saving them from sure destruction. Extensive damage was sustained by the building. Unfortunately, the greatest loss was the history and memories that the department’s first building held…we are still trying to recover our history. Damaged as the building may have been, its membership was not daunted. Recovery began immediately, and fire protection from the site was never waived.
In 1965, Bruen Hose remodeled the building to aid the delivery of their services.
The ’70s brought new apparatus to Clinton Heights. Technology had caught up with aging buildings; all three needed major renovations. Bruen Hose made internal adjustments, whereas Miller Hose and Community Hose added additions to their respective buildings. By this time, the department had over 60 active members, supported four chief officers, and manned seven pieces of fire apparatus, including the first all-volunteer aerial device in Rensselaer County.
As the ’70s came to the department, East Greenbush was changing. No longer a self-contained area, more and more people assumed a “bedroom community” lifestyle-leaving town during the day for work. This change created a manpower vacuum, although the need for members did not diminish. While some departments debated the acceptance of women to fill this vacuum, Clinton Heights did not. All three companies gladly accepted female firefighters. Although limited in number, they answered the call. Today the recruitment of male and female members continues.
The 1980s saw new laws and mandates for the department. Unprecedented requirements for training, equipment purchases, paperwork, and procedural changes seemed to come with every mail delivery. Initially, the department and members felt overwhelmed. Rising to the occasion, a seeming command occurrence, the challenge was met. Examination of the existing department infrastructure showed that Clinton Heights was not far behind. Areas of deficiency were sought and addressed. The training was updated and revived, new equipment was purchased, paperwork was automated and computerized, and overall procedures were revamped to meet the changing demands of the regulating authorities of the fire service. Confidence returned to the firefighter and officers…mandates would not be a deterrent.
During the ’90s, the Clinton Heights Fire Department remained alive and well with the surviving companies of W.F. Bruen Hose and Community Hose. The foundations laid by those who came before us were firm and provided a work ethic and infrastructure that cannot be scuttled. A 1992 federal inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Association provided a picture of a department that can be proud of its accomplishments. Clinton Heights remained a vibrant dynamic group of people. No one component was sitting still; the Board of Commissioners, line officers, firefighters, a recently revived fire police corps, and a more active auxiliary were continuously meeting the demands of volunteer operations.